Dewey After the End of Art

Evaluating the “Hegelian Permanent Deposit” in Dewey’s Aesthetics

In: Contemporary Pragmatism
Author: Roberta Dreon1
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  • 1 Department of Philosophy and Cultural Heritage, Ca’ Foscari University, Venice,
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This article explores the significance of Hegel’s aesthetic lectures for Dewey’s approach to the arts. Although over the last two decades some brilliant studies have been published on the “permanent deposit” of Hegel in Dewey’s mature thought, the aesthetic dimension of Dewey’s engagement with Hegel’s heritage has not yet been investigated.

This inquiry will be developed on a theoretical level as well as on the basis of a recent discovery: in Dewey’s Correspondence traces have been found of a lecture on Hegel’s Aesthetics delivered in 1891 within a summer school run by a scholar close to the so-called St. Louis Hegelians. Dewey’s deep and long-standing acquaintance with Hegel’s Aesthetics supports the claim that in his mature book, Art as Experience, he originally appropriated some Hegelian insights. First, Dewey shared Hegel’s strong anti-dualistic and anti-autonomistic conception of the arts, resisting post-Kantian sirens that favored instead an interpretation of art as a separate realm from ordinary reality. Second, they basically converged on an idea of the arts as inherently social activities as well as crucial contributions to the shaping of cultures and civilizations, based on the proximity of the arts to the sensitive nature of man. Third, this article argues that an original re-consideration of Hegel’s thesis of the so-called “end of art” played a crucial role in the formulation of Dewey’s criticism of the arts and of the role of aesthetic experience in contemporary society. The author suggests that we read Dewey’s criticism of the removal of fine art “from the scope of the common or community life” (lw 10, 12) in light of Hegel’s insight that the experience of the arts as something with which believers or citizens can immediately identify belongs to an irretrievable past.

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